Gold is virtually indestructible; almost all the gold ever mined still exists today… all 165,000 tonnes (182,000 tons) of it, only enough gold to fill two Olympic-sized swimming pools. All it would neatly fit under the Eiffel Tower. That is not a lot. That is because you’ll have to drill through 250 tonnes of rock, then pulverize it, then chemically treat it to get enough gold for only a single wedding ring.
Gold also simply is beautiful to look at – for reasons not always understood. These – the beauty and the scarcity – are the qualities that has always made gold one of the most sought-after precious metals with the price of an ounce trading for $1000 and more (see the history of gold prices).
Gold is extremely malleable and pliable. A one-ounce piece of gold can be beaten down to 5 micrometers thick – that is 1/10 the diameter of a human hair – and laid out into 50 miles of wire. It can also be made so thin that it becomes a translucent sheet; in fact, astronaut’s visors are covered in a thin gold film to protect their eyes from glare. Gold also has anti-inflammatory and other medicinal properties.
Ancient Sumerians of Mesopotamia (modern-day Iran and Iraq) were the first, at around 5000 BC (some sources indicate 4000 BC), to use gold for ornaments. The Egyptians would soon fall in love with the precious metal too. But gold was mostly used for personal adornment; the first gold coins for trade were issued by Egyptian pharaohs only at around 2700 BC. Large scale gold coinage for the monetary purpose was introduced in by King Croesus during his reign (560 – 546 BC) of Lydia (modern-day western Turkey). Croesus became one of the wealthiest persons ever.
How to make your own gold
In the 5th century BC, Empedocles theorized that everything is made from earth, air, water and fire. His four-element theory led alchemists to belief that it should be possible to break down lead and reassemble it as gold. By the 17th century, they believed that if gold itself could be broken down, it could be sown like seeds. It was not to be.
But gold can be manufactured. By firing neutrons into a nucleus to change an atom, gold can be produced from cheap metals. However, the nuclear process costs far more than mining gold. Furthermore, the gold would end up radioactively.